You could ask students to recall some concepts from the previous chapters that might help managers build and use information systems successfully. Answers could include what business processes the company performs, the size of the company, or the organization of the information systems function.
Recall the business objectives that allow firms to achieve competitive advantage, discussed in Chapter 1: operational excellence, new products, services and business models, customer and supplier intimacy, and improved decision making.
Emphasize the fact that eBay is trying to become more than just an auction site in order to stay one step ahead of its competition. Ask students how IT might have helped the company identify which companies were attractive targets for acquisition or deals. Additional companies that eBay has acquired or struck deals with include Craigslist, StubHub, and ProStores.
This concept was briefly discussed in Chapter 1. Figure 1-2 and 1-3 as well as the figure on the next slide, 3-1, display this interdependent relationship graphically.
Ask students to explain how each factor might affect the relationship between organizations and information technology. Emphasize to students that the relationship between these two and its effects on the future of a business are difficult to predict. For example, very few people could have predicted the prominence of e-mail and instant messaging in business communication 15 years ago.
Which of the two definitions do students find more appealing and why? It is important to consider both definitions rather than exclusively use one at the expense of the other. The two definitions are complementary.
Ask students what are the inputs from the environment? What do organizations output (goods and services). In this view, the organization or business firm is rather easily changed, and malleable. The organization is a collection of parts, like a machine, that can be re-arranged as needed. There are no humans in this model, or if there are, they are assumed to be relatively simple.
In this view, the business firm is a little more difficult to change rapidly or on command because it is a very complex machine populated with human beings. Firms operate with an existing hierarchy, job definitions, business rules, procedures and processes. Efficient organizations become very good at these elements of business. Changing these elements takes more time.
You could ask students to envision what would happen to an organization that did not use a hierarchical structure (would anything get done?), did not adhere to the principle of efficiency (would they provide any good or service worth using at an affordable price?), etc.
You could ask students to describe examples of situations where a business they have interacted with has had a well-understood set of routines. One such example is at the doctor’s office, where the receptionist, nurses, and doctors all have a defined set of routines. Ask students to think about and describe routines they performed on their jobs.
Explain to students that the blue spheres are individual routines, which together constitute a business process. A firm can be seen as a collection of these processes.
You could ask students to describe examples where organizational politics might hamper a firm’s ability to succeed, or examples where effectively managed organizational politics helps a company to undergo a smoother transition or make more intelligent decisions. Ask students to describe their personal experiences with “organizational politics.”
Culture may seem like a pretty abstract idea to many students. Ask students to describe organizational cultures they have experienced while on the job, or other areas of their lives. What kind of organizational culture do students prefer and why? Ask students to describe different kinds of cultures and what types of firms are more likely to have them.
Explain that environmental scanning involves searching for and determining external changes that may require an organizational response. The current economic climate represents an example of external change that require sweeping organizational responses to ensure survival.
This graphic further establishes information systems as the ‘lens’ of the firm, observing external factors and filtering information back in to the firm. To some extent, organizations only “see” what their systems will let them see. If systems are poorly built, they may blind managers to difficulties and problems.
Ensure that students understand that the PageRank algorithm is the underlying technology behind Google search. Ask students if they can give examples of any first movers that invented a disruptive technology, yet failed to last (examples might include the Altair personal computer, the Netscape Navigator Internet browser, etc.).
Do students agree with the classification of these types of organizational structure? Can they come up with examples for each type of organization?
Ask students to give some examples of each organizational feature listed above. For example, different organizations (prisons, businesses, colleges) have different types of goals (coercive, utilitarian, normative, respectively).
IT figures to replace the function of more middle managers as time passes, as well as reduce the need for other forms of capital (buildings, machinery). Ensure that students understand what is meant by ‘economics of information’ and why outsourcing is a possibility due to IT.
Explain that using the market can be expensive. If you depend on the market, rather than hiring employees, to will need to search for talent, vet the talent, write contracts for work to be performed, monitor the work, and so forth. When participation in markets is expensive, firms would rather hire employees to accomplish their work. But the Internet makes it less expensive to use the marketplace. With the Internet, firms mind it more cost effective to use the marketplace and contract for work in a market, rather than hire employees. Ask your students why the Internet can make participating in markets less expensive than before?
As the costs of participating in markets rises (transaction costs), firms hire more employees to do the work in-house. IT lowers transaction costs. This can result in firms shrinking in size (reduced employment) , but still maintaining or even increasing revenues.
By characterizing employees as independent agents requiring constant supervision, agency theory underscores a key reason that costs increase as firms grow in size and scope – the need to expend more effort managing their employees.
Agency costs rise as firms take on more employees. IT enables firms to economize on managers through better coordination and communication. This allows firms to grow revenues while maintaining the same size. Figures 3-6 and 3-7 are driving home the point that information technology has a direct effect on the underlying cost structure of the firm. IT enables small companies to act like big companies, and enables large companies to shrink in headcount while expanding revenues.
Ask students to explain what is meant by authority relying on knowledge and competence rather than formal positions. Why might this ‘flatten’ and organization? The idea here is that with sufficient IT, competent workers will be able to accomplish more on their own than they would under a more concrete hierarchy.
Ask students to explain some of the benefits of the flattened organization as opposed to the more complicated hierarchy. Information travels through fewer levels to its intended recipients, fewer managers so agency costs are smaller, and firms can act faster (less decision delay).
Explain what is meant by changes in culture and politics of the firm. For example, workers may resist changes that disrupt their routines. Also explain to students that as important as technical understanding of information systems may be for potential managers, it is equally important to understand the people and organizational structures and customs affected by information systems.
The diamond shape in the figure represents the mutual relationship between the concepts shown. You could emphasize that implementing a new system might be like changing the diamond into a square, thus requiring some degree of change on the part of all four participants in the relationship.
The Internet should also have a flattening effect on many organizations. Can students describe any businesses that have become more efficient and flat thanks to successful incorporation of the Internet in their operations? Some older students may remember the “bad old days” when seven or more levels of management needed to decide even simple issues in a typical firm.
Ask students to consider the results of an information system implemented without properly considering each of the above factors. For example, an information system designed without an understanding of the company’s culture and politics is likely to be unpopular, perhaps forcing employees to drastically deviate from their previous routines.
Porter’s competitive forces model is intended to explain why some firms “do better” than others. Do students believe that this model captures this idea effectively? Which factor is most important to a firm’s success? You can make a list of five well-known firms on the blackboard or screen and ask students for each firm which do they think are the most important competitive forces.
Notice that in the graphic, competitors are represented differently than the other four competitive forces influencing a firm. Why do students think this is the case? One answer might be that competitors are firms themselves and are under similar pressures to the firms they influence.
Emphasize that the original systems used by the forces on the ground in Iraq were unsuccessful because they were not made with a sufficient understanding of the day-to-day activities of the soldiers as well as the problems they faced.
Ask students to name different types of businesses and describe the benefits and drawbacks of being a new market entrant in each.
Ask students to name different businesses and describe whether or not customers have great control over the business or vice versa, or whether substitute products are a large or insignificant threat to the success of the business.
Here you can make a list of five well-known firms and then analyze with students the major thrust of their strategy. Wal-Mart is a good example to start with because of its emphasis on low-cost leadership.
Do students believe it is possible both to design information systems that focus both on low-cost leadership and product differentiation? Some may say it is with sufficient planning and innovation; perhaps a new product is even cheaper to produce than older ones. Some may say that the investment in innovation required for product differentiation precludes that firm from maintaining low-cost leadership.
You could ask students to provide other examples from their own experience of companies that exemplify strong focus on market niche as well as excellent customer and supplier intimacy.
Also ask students whether they believe that AutoNation’s solution will be effective. Also, how it can obtain the necessary data to determine what cars to stock in each of its dealerships?
Do students believe it is easier or harder to gain a competitive advantage via the Internet as opposed to more traditional means? Table 3-5 describes the impact of the Internet on various competitive forces.
How does the value chain model different from the Porter model? (It offers more specific detail about what exactly to do to achieve competitive advantages.) How do primary activities differ from support activities?
Emphasize the relationship between the primary and support activities of this firm and explain how information systems are critical to the success of each activity.
Explain that a value web extends beyond the boundaries of an individual firm and represents the coordination of value chains across multiple independent firms. A value web is flexible and adapts to changes in supply and demand and changing market conditions.
Ask students why a model like the one displayed in the figure might be more likely to adapt quickly to changes in supply and demand. Also emphasize the networking between the different segments of the value web.
Explain that information technology’s role in promoting synergy is often tying together operations of disparate business units so that they can act as a whole. Why might this lead to reduced costs and increased efficiency?
Can students name any other notable examples of core competencies among firms? (Google: search, Microsoft: office productivity software, etc.)
Examples of firms that use this type of strategy to achieve an advantage are eBay and iVillage. Many other companies are following suit in using a network-based strategy – can students name any?
Explain the difference between these two schools of economics. What aspect of network economics allows value to continue to increase with the size of the community?
Explain to students that companies like this are ‘virtual’ because they do not actually own any factories, machines, or other similar infrastructure. Instead, they offer a series of services, aided by information systems and uninhibited by geographical boundaries.
Can students see the similarities between business ecosystems and value webs? Can they appreciate the key difference (that business ecosystems extend across industries as opposed to just firms within the same industry)?
Emphasize how important IT is in bringing disparate industries together to deliver value to the customer. What are the challenges of coordinating the flow of information across, for example, four different industries, as shown in the figure?
Emphasize the importance and difficulty of aligning information technology with the business. What does this mean? Why do so many companies fail at this critical task? Can students think of any other important questions that management should ask about their company before designing their IT systems? What is a solution for the fact that many competitive advantages can be copied? This fact highlights the importance of continuous innovation in order to stay ahead.